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Is Reading Spouse's E-Mail a Crime? 496

Posted by timothy
from the ask-the-judge dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The Detroit Free Press reports that Leon Walker is charged with unlawfully reading the e-mail of Ciara Walker, his wife at that time, which showed she was having an affair with her second husband, who once had been arrested for beating her in front of her son. Walker says he gave the e-mails to her first husband, the child's father, to protect the boy. 'I was doing what I had to do,' says Walker. 'We're talking about putting a child in danger.' Now prosecutors, relying on a Michigan statute typically used to prosecute crimes such as identity theft or stealing trade secrets, have charged Leon Walker with a felony for logging onto a laptop in the home he shared with his wife. Prosecutor Jessica Cooper defended her decision to charge Walker. 'The guy is a hacker,' says Cooper, adding that the Gmail account 'was password protected, he had wonderful skills, and was highly trained. Then he downloaded [the emails] and used them in a very contentious way.'"
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Is Reading Spouse's E-Mail a Crime?

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  • by HungryHobo (1314109) on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:02AM (#34675322)

    Is opening a spouses physical mail a crime?

  • by Post-O-Matron (1273882) on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:08AM (#34675344)

    What's next? Charging a husband who read his wifes diary. Oh yes there was a lock on it and he broke it. No that wouldn't reach court, but hackers - those smelly dodgy think they are smarter than us geek types - let's lock all of them up and throw away the key! They are terrorists! And they want to give away the fruit of all of hard work for free!

    What the hell are they putting in your water?

  • What a hacker! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xelios (822510) on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:11AM (#34675362)
    According to TFA, her email password was written down in a little book kept by the family computer. And yet, "The guy is a hacker" and "It was password protected, he had wonderful skills, and was highly trained."

    Really, I don't see how it can get any more ridiculous than this. I realize the prosecutor has to put on a show to support such ridiculous charges, but good lord...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:16AM (#34675382)

    So by that logic, if you rent out a room in your house you can legally read that person's mail? I think that name is pretty important.

  • Considering... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ewhenn (647989) on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:23AM (#34675412)
    Considering that when you are married, in terms of property rights, you are considered a single legal entity, I honestly don't see how this would stand up in court.
  • Hey Hugh Pickens, (Score:5, Insightful)

    by netsharc (195805) on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:39AM (#34675492)

    i.e. summary writer: learn to summarize better! Your first sentence had me so fucking confused. My mind as I read through that mess: "so he's the guy's husband, and he read his wife's email, he finds out his wife is having an affair with the second husband. Second husband? Oh, so do you mean the "hacker" is the first husband, and at the time the article was written, she's married to the guy she's been having an affair with? OK. But then he printed the emails and handed them to the woman's first husband. Wait, what? Isn't the hacker the first husband?"

    You could have added ", who is Ciara Walker's third husband," in there to make the whole fucking thing easier to comprehend! I even RTFA to see if that incomprehensible mess was a copy/paste job, but lookie there: "Leon Walker was Clara Walker's third husband."

    *mumble mumble kids and stupid American education these days.*

  • by aliquis (678370) <dospam@gmail.com> on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:46AM (#34675526) Homepage

    Personally I think this case is a good thing. Her account, her cell phone, her diary..

    Why should you give up all personal integrity just because you're in a relationship?

  • Sexism? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AmberBlackCat (829689) on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:55AM (#34675572)
    In this particular case I wonder, if the wife had checked the husband's email and found out about an affair, would she have been charged with a felony too? This seems almost like an attempt to abuse the law for sexist purposes to me. Unless the prosecutor just needs attention.
  • by Nursie (632944) on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:56AM (#34675578)

    Trust is not needing that password.

    Lack of trust is asking for it.

    End of.

    Not sure what I would do in that situation.

  • Re:What a hacker! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Opportunist (166417) on Monday December 27, 2010 @10:09AM (#34675656)

    What's one got to do with the other?

    We're furious about this, let's say, "liberal" use of the term "hacker". By that definition, anyone able to read and open a mail program is a hacker.

    That should be, like, everyone.

  • by Mr. Freeman (933986) on Monday December 27, 2010 @10:26AM (#34675788)
    This might come as a surprise to you but you give up a lot of privacy to your spouse when you get married.
  • by robot256 (1635039) on Monday December 27, 2010 @10:29AM (#34675814)
    She was having an affair with her abusive ex-husband. What integrity?
  • by VendettaMF (629699) on Monday December 27, 2010 @10:29AM (#34675816) Homepage

    >>I would really like to know why the prosecutor is
    >>really going after this man. It sounds personal.

    He located evidence that the mother is not the best suited of the two parents to keep custody of the child. In the US this is blasphemy of the highest order. He shall be stoned forthwith.

  • by whoever57 (658626) on Monday December 27, 2010 @10:34AM (#34675852) Journal
    How many times have the Feds argued in court (or filings) that people have no expectation of privacy in emails?
  • by jbengt (874751) on Monday December 27, 2010 @10:41AM (#34675890)
    That analogy fails to address the issues in this case.

    The relevant law he is being charged with, according to TFA:

    A person shall not intentionally and without authorization or by exceeding valid authorization do any of the following:

    Access or cause access to be made to a computer program, computer, computer system or computer network

    Well, he did access a computer that he bought for his wife and that he had often used, possibly while exceeding valid authorization, but he used the password that his wife had written down in a book next to the computer, so from the provider's viewpoint, he was authorized.

    to acquire, alter, damage delete or destroy property

    No he didn't do any of those and didn't have intent to do those.

    or otherwise use the service of a computer program, computer, computer system or computer network.

    I read this as theft of services, which he did not do and he did not intend to do.

    I don't think there was\ any reason to charge him under this statute.
    IANAL, YMMV, etc.

  • Re:What a hacker! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Monday December 27, 2010 @10:49AM (#34675946)

    According to TFA, her email password was written down in a little book kept by the family computer. And yet, "The guy is a hacker" and "It was password protected, he had wonderful skills, and was highly trained." Really, I don't see how it can get any more ridiculous than this. I realize the prosecutor has to put on a show to support such ridiculous charges, but good lord...

    You obviously have not seen some of the products of the US education system - being able to recognize and open a book, and then actually read what is inside may very well qualify someone as having "wonderful skills" and being "highly trained."

  • Re:Considering... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BobMcD (601576) on Monday December 27, 2010 @10:55AM (#34675986)

    If my wife gets an important letter she's waiting for, while she's at work, I phone her to ask for permission to open it and read it to her.
    It's one of the cornerstones of marriage that you respect the privacy of your partner, even if you're a jealous asshole.

    Wait, wait, wait. The wife in this story is cheating on her third husband with her ex-second, who by the way has a criminal record for abusing her. The third goes into her email and provides it to the first husband, the father of their son, so that he might intervene and prevent any contact between his son and the second.

    And the third is the asshole?

    Really??

    It seems to me that the Mrs has very poor judgement, and her privacy has less value than making sure her son stays safe. Sometimes individuals need to violate the law in order to do the right thing. This appears to be one of those times.

    Further, he's not 'jealous'. That appears to be his WIFE that we're talking about. Everyone that she sleeps with is also sleeping with him, in terms of VD, and she genuinely has no right to keep that sort of secret until after they're separated. Vis-a-vis him cheating on her.

    I'm just out-and-out stunned that you'd defend her by blaming number three. Do husbands really have NO rights any more? Are they genuinely just boyfriends with joint bank accounts? Marriage means NOTHING additional?

  • by xmousex (661995) on Monday December 27, 2010 @11:33AM (#34676288) Journal

    This is also my take on it. "two become one". But I am starting to wonder if either I was mislead somewhere about what marriage was, or if marriage is quickly being redefined into something completely meaningless.

  • by magarity (164372) on Monday December 27, 2010 @11:55AM (#34676494)

    You need to recheck your definition of hilarious. Hilarious would be if the wife was having a secret affair with his mistress. Still seeing the guy who beat her is pathetic and disturbed.

  • by sslayer (968948) on Monday December 27, 2010 @12:06PM (#34676590)

    When you're married, what's yours is hers, what's hers is hers, and what's our's is hers.

    That sounds pretty much like a deal with the Devil, where everything you owned now belongs to Her Satanic Majesty and you don't own anything at all, neither your own life...

  • by TheABomb (180342) on Monday December 27, 2010 @01:54PM (#34677576)

    My first thought was that he just went to Gmail and let the browser's stored password do the work. Then I read TFA: "Leon Walker told the Free Press he routinely used the computer and that she kept all of her passwords in a small book next to the computer."

    So no. He didn't "guess" the password. He didn't have to—she gave it to him. By this lawyer's logic, someone who enters a building via a door that has the word "PUSH" written on it is a master catburglar.

  • by TheABomb (180342) on Monday December 27, 2010 @02:11PM (#34677722)

    I thought that when I saw the photo in the article along with the prosecutor's contention that he possessed some sort of unnatural skill at "hacking" because he read the paper on which his wife wrote all her passwords that she kept next to the computer. In other words, due either to institutional racism or affirmative action lowering the bar so far, black people are no longer expected by our legal system to be literate or have any sort of basic problem-solving skills.

  • It sounds like you are somebody who doesn't either need nor deserve marriage in any form. Part of the point of a marriage is that you share your life in such an intimate level that it becomes difficult to distinguish any separate property. Marriage is about serving and cherishing each other, about giving more than you receive and doing good for others in spite of personal limitations.

    In such a situation, marriage is something that is incredibly powerful where two people support and sustain each other to fill in the weaknesses of each other to be much stronger together. Unfortunately when you have two selfish people who fight against each other rather than work with each other to make each other stronger, the effort to cut each other down actually backfires and makes both "partners" all that weaker and makes attacks from outside of the marriage all that easier to destroy the lives of those bound in the marriage.

    Marriage is thus a two edged sword that can be incredibly powerful or to be absolutely horrible, depending on how those involved make it. Divorce in particular is awful because intimate details have been shared and are being used against each other, often as a sort of a game. I'll also point out that with rare exceptions (and I'm not even sure with that) there are no "winners" in a divorce. At best it can be said to be a form of "cutting your losses" and at worst the equivalent of a thermonuclear war in terms of relationships. Amicable divorces can happen, where at least those married can agree to disagree and move on with their lives and a minimum of damage to each other. Unfortunately it is all too easy to lob that first "bomb" and start the war where everybody loses, including those outside of the marriage and in particular the kids in the marriage in particular are the ones hurt the most.

  • by HeronBlademaster (1079477) <heron@xnapid.com> on Monday December 27, 2010 @04:22PM (#34678908) Homepage

    That's why I am never getting married. My stuff is MY stuff and it's not going to suddenly belong to somebody else like that. I don't need somebody opening my mail, thinking for me, choosing what I watch on TV or what I eat for dinner, or what I get to spend my money on.

    There's no rule saying your spouse has to think for you, choose what you watch on TV or what you eat for dinner, or what you spend your money on, and as you have pointed out, that attitude from either spouse will do great harm to the relationship. This is doubly true if either partner has this attitude before the marriage even begins - and based on your comments, you already think that every potential spouse will treat you this way. You are not doing yourself any favors with that attitude.

    It is not the case that one partner must take precedence over the other. The fact is, you can choose a spouse who will hold you in as high a regard as you hold her, who will treat your happiness as if it is just as important, if not more so, than her own. I know this is true because my wife and I treat each other this way. We both strive to make the other happy. That is one of the most important cornerstones of any successful relationship, married or not.

    Don't avoid marriage just because you have friends who suck at choosing good spouses. All it means is that you should choose more carefully than they did. Yes, the divorce rate is disturbingly high, but that does not mean marriage itself is inherently flawed. In reality the two biggest reasons couples get divorced are as follows: either they disagree on financial issues, or one spouse has some habit or engages in some other activity that they know the other finds distasteful, but refuses to change or compromise at all. Both are issues that should have been worked out before marriage was considered in the first place. If all couples discussed these things before deciding to get married, the divorce rate would plummet.

    The modern marriage mindset seems to be "if it doesn't work out, we can just get divorced". This encourages people to marry too soon, to give up rather than work together to fix problems, discourages relationship-building, and cheapens the concept of marriage entirely. Indeed, the most successful marriages are marriages where neither spouse views divorce as an acceptable solution.

    I'm going to say this again, because it bears repeating: these are all issues that can and should be resolved before marriage.

    Difficult to see the upside honestly.

    You only have difficulty seeing the upside because you can't fathom the possibility that you might find a spouse that won't treat you like dirt. Perhaps you're finding your relationships in the wrong place.

    Surely you can see the benefits of a marriage where both spouses treat each other equally?

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